EFL: How coronavirus is affecting lower-league clubs, players, fans and livelihoods

Most English Football League clubs shut their stadium and facilities early on to reduce costs

This bank holiday weekend was supposed to bring the FA Cup and Championship play-off finals – arguably the most renowned and richest games in club football.

Instead there is a void.

While those at the top of the football food chain may be able to ride out the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, clubs and players down the English Football League and below are preparing for seismic changes to both the sport and the livelihoods of those who rely on it.

BBC Sport has spoken to people running those clubs, as well as players, supporters and finance experts about what having no fans at games could mean over the coming weeks, months, and even years.

Players ‘living paycheque to paycheque’

The problem is clear but the solution is anything but.

Around 1,400 players across the EFL are out of contract at the end of June and there is an ever-growing possibility that fans will not be allowed to attend matches until next year – starving clubs of, what is for many, their main income source.

“I can’t see clubs offering contracts in that period,” said Alex Rodman, midfielder at League One side Bristol Rovers.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “A lot [of the 1,400 players] could be lost to the game, which would be a massive shame.

“It’s a horrible situation for them to be in – to think that they need to go and possibly find another job that they maybe haven’t known for the last six, eight or 10 years just to support their families – but it is unprecedented times and I’m sure there’s many other people in the country who are in the same position.”

Rodman’s concerns are echoed by Dr Rob Wilson, sports finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University, who believes “a lot of players” will drop out of football.

“We will naturally see smaller squad sizes and more use of the loan system, particularly by lower league clubs,” Wilson told BBC Sport.

He thinks that will “help redistribute playing talent” but foresees a “depression” in the transfer market.

“Even if clubs are able to pay big fees, the public perception will be so poor that they will try to avoid it,” he added.

“That will naturally depress the total value of the transfer market, and clubs should use this to their advantage in player contract negotiations so anybody looking at contract renewals will probably look at lighter contracts.”

Alex Rodman’s previous clubs include Grimsby, Newport, Notts County and Shrewsbury

When many think of professional football in England, attention turns straight to the Premier League, where players earn an average of more than £3m a year.